Stanley Kubrick’s final and most complicated masterpiece opened to extreme disappointment among reviewers from all over. Critics claimed that Kubrick was “out of touch with today’s jaded sensibilities”. However, it has been the case with almost every Kubrick film ever released, the critics, at first, could only see what was not there. The film was, and continues to be, completely and utterly misinterpreted by both the critical and the public eye.
The main themes in Eyes Wide Shut are not those of sex and marriage; now, certainly, the story that is told by the actors alone echoes of these subjects. However, what the actors are doing onscreen more often than not was meant by Kubrick to take second place to the imagery used in the film. And the themes portrayed by the imagery are most certainly not that which mainstream reviews have let on.
So what exactly is Eyes Wide Shut about, then? Not sex. Eyes Wide Shut is about the wealth and power of society, about the upper class. It’s about how the elite men in this world manipulate their inferiors and treat them like mere possessions. It is about the mistreatment of women and the lower class, and the source of that mistreatment.
From a single viewing of Eyes Wide Shut, one may assume that Nicole Kidman’s character has some power in her relationship with her husband, that she has some other meaning to him and his acquaintances than an object, a possession. One will see, however, after analyzing the film carefully, that she has no power. Kidman’s character claims she is looking for a job in one scene, but we never see her looking. Instead, we see men – powerful men, who manipulate and control their inferiors to suit their needs, looking at her. Look carefully and one will see a series of parallels between Kidman’s character and that of the call-girl we see at Ziegler’s Christmas party, both have red hair, are approximately the same height, and seem to have a fondness for mind-altering drugs. The character played by Kidman is nothing more than another, married prostitute.
One of the most disturbing images the film shows us is that of Nicole Kidman’s character training her daughter to follow in her footsteps, the footsteps of the wife as a possession, the wife as an object, the wife as an upper class call-girl. When we see her daughter working on math problems, she is trying to figure out which boy has more money than the other one. The one sentence we hear as she is reading a storybook to her mom is something to the effect of and so I jumped into bed. The countless scenes of Kidman’s character and her daughter grooming themselves side-by-side should make this point obvious enough. As well, in the film’s final scene, we see the daughter flitting around the shopping store, picking up items that all relate her back to the women that Bill Harford has abused in his nighttime excursions, she picks up a Barbie doll, a teddy bear, and a purple baby carriage. And for one last disturbing flourish, Kubrick has her walk past a toy conspicuously called The Magic Circle. History repeats itself and has come full circle, and Bill and Alice are too busy to notice.
Recall the cafe that Bill Harford walks into when he discovers that Mandy, the girl he believes saved his life at the orgy, has died. Notice the music that’s playing in the background. It’s no ordinary classical music. The piece is a song mourning the death of someone. One may think it touching of Kubrick to include this little thing in the film, but it doesn’t stop there. Look closely at the paintings covering the walls in the room. They are antique paintings of women, women who, in their times, were treated like possessions just as each and every woman we see in this film is treated. It is a requiem for them, it’s a requiem for all those who have been downtrodden on by the socially elite.
The film’s final scene has been interpreted by many as a happy ending. I do not see it that way. Bill and Alice are in a position to DO SOMETHING about all of the atrocities that have been committed by the upper class. Someone has been killed and they have this one opportunity to expose it. But no. They’re both too caught up in their own problems to notice, or even understand, the bigger picture. In Kubrick’s last word on this subject, or, for that matter, any subject, Alice and Bill, along with the rest of the world are fucked. Given the chance to change the world in which they live for the better, they give it up, they fail to even acknowledge that the opportunity exists. For all of their meaningless chatter about being wide awake now, they’re still screwed over. Their eyes are still wide shut.